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Feds hold ID-theft suspects

Sheriff detains immigrants for ICE interrogation

Posted: February 18, 2009 11:43 p.m.
Updated: February 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers placed holds on 19 of 22 immigrants suspected of using false identification to gain employment and entering the country illegally.

A hold guarantees the sheriff's department does not release a suspect in custody before an ICE interrogation, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.

Santa Clarita Valley sheriff's deputies arrested 55 people during a Feb. 5 raid of L&M Optical West, after receiving tips from local residents whose Social Security numbers were compromised.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged 44 suspects with crimes in the case.

ICE agents placed holds on two suspects during Feb. 9 arraignment, L.A. County Deputy Public Defender Christina Behle said.

"We always expected that the people in this case would get turned over to ICE," said Lance Gallardo, immigration attorney.

The suspects allegedly used Social Security numbers and fake alien-resident cards to gain employment at L&M, Sgt. James Anderson said.

Deputies are investigating whether L&M played a role in the identity scam, he said.

The ICE holds come less than a week after Anderson said federal authorities were not receptive to pleas for help.

"We contacted the Social Security Administration to help identify the victims," he said.

But he was told the administration couldn't join the investigation.

The Social Security office declined to comment on why it would not help the investigation, Anderson said.

ICE holds an administrative hearing to determine whether the person is deportable or not.

"I am sure (the sheriff's deputies) turned these people over to ICE on a silver platter," Gallardo said.

"(ICE) gets them from the sheriff's department under the guise of state identity theft laws."

Anderson said establishing the immigration status of the employees was not a priority.

Gallardo doubts that claim.

"The sheriff's department is out doing ICE's job, and ICE and the sheriffs benefit," he said.

The ICE hearings will come after the California charges against the suspects have been heard, Behle said.

Pretrial conferences for the alleged ID thieves start Feb. 20 and continue on Feb. 23 and 24.


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